February 5, 2012 Gospel: Mark 1:29-39 Psalm 147:1-11, 20c
1st Reading: Isaiah 40:21-31 2nd Reading: 1 Corinthians 9:16-23
“In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him.” I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I used to enjoy hunting with my family. We learned, even as little kids, how to move through the trees and sagebrush quietly. If we were going to have deer to eat that winter we’d have to be. We’d watch where we stepped. And while we were watching our feet, we could look for deer sign, footprints and droppings that could tell us how long ago a deer passed by that way.
Hunting involved a fair amount of walking, but it also involved a lot of waiting. We learned to sit quietly. Maybe hunting was good practice for church and church good practice for hunting.
In the Old Testament lesson, the Israelites had been taken into exile. They were complaining against God. And God answers them. “Don’t you people know anything!? I am in charge,” God says. God reminds them of everything he’s done, such as stretching the heavens and other important jobs. God reminds them that God is powerful and strong. God reminds them that they are faint, weary, and powerless. But God’s power is relational, it is for sharing. It is love. “Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Those that wait quietly and watch for God will see God’s power and receive it. Power is for sharing. If you read about how the Israelites got taken into exile, you’ll see that they had been powerful, but they misused their power, so God took it away. Now that they find themselves powerless and calling on God, even in an accusing way, God will respond and share power to tip the power balance back to them.
Their waiting was a long process. Most of those who were taken died before they could come back into the land of Israel. Much like the waiting and wandering that happened in the wilderness before the Israelites came into the land of Canaan, where the generation that left Egypt was not the one that inherited the land.
Waiting is more than just wasted time. It has taken a long time for me to learn that and I am still learning it. I was the one who loved geometry because it showed the shortest line between 2 points. I do not take the scenic route, I take the fastest route. There is A and there is B and I just want to get from A to B. I married someone who doesn’t even have A or B in his awareness. Where is the car parked? Who cares? If you wander the parking lot long enough you’ll remember or stumble upon it. Nick enjoys the process. I gain a lot from being around him since I am the opposite. I try to think like him when I am stuck in traffic or in line at the grocery store. It isn’t just about getting from here to there, but I try to see what else is happening in that moment. Maybe I’m supposed to pay attention to a frazzled clerk at the store and offer a cheerful hello. Maybe I’m supposed to hold the door for someone or pick up a piece of litter. Maybe I’m being delayed so I miss a car accident later in the day. Believe me, sometimes it is a stretch to understand why I can’t get from here to there in the quickest way. Maybe I’m meant to see a rainbow or a sunset or a clump of clouds that reminds me that I’m not the center of everything, that there is a bigger plan and a powerful one that is looking out for the powerless and frazzled.
In Paul’s letter, he is also waiting and watching. He has the Gospel to proclaim, the good news to tell. He could jump right in with his stump speech, but instead he looks around him. He thinks about what would make the good news make sense to a certain group of people. He listens to their stories. He finds out what is important. He takes on characteristics that people will identify with. Then he shares the good news.
Some might call that flexibility “flip flopping.” But Paul knows himself and his bottom line. He’s got to get this most important message across. The rest is just window dressing. How you share it doesn’t matter to God, nor does what you eat or what silly rules you follow, or what culture you are part of. I can just imagine Paul trying on different accents, different clothes or disguises. But he’s not trying to trick anyone. He’s just trying to fit in with and understand another person’s thought process in order to help them connect with God.
Often the church says we want young people to come. Using Paul’s example, maybe we ought to dress the way they do, with our jeans falling down or tramp stamp showing. Maybe we ought to try to talk the way young people do. That wouldn’t be authentic. And we would be doing it for the wrong reasons, because we want our church to grow, which is selfish. Paul did it because he wanted other people to hear a word of hope and love. He was doing it for the sake of the other person. But that doesn’t mean we couldn’t use more accessible language, so that people who came here wouldn’t need a translator to understand what was going on, but would immediately know God’s love plain and pure?
Simon’s mother-in-law knew what it was like to wait. She had likely been suffering from Malaria for ages. This is a disease that, once you get it, it keeps coming back when you’re tired or worn out. Malaria kills about 1800 people every day and yet it is preventable with nets around the bed. The Lutheran Church has recently rejoined the malaria initiative. We’re so good at this that The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works with us to get mosquito nets to countries where malaria is prevalent. We could go in to these places and preach all we wanted, but people would continue to die. The good news in this situation, looks like a net, so we become nets, we bring nets to protect people.
The people who were sick in the town waited. If you had been in Capurnaum that day, you would have kicked yourself if you hadn’t gone to Simon’s mother-in-law’s house and waited, even if a hangnail was all you could come up with as a reason. And Jesus healed many people, and gave them a certain level of new life. Jesus could have stayed there in Capurnaum and healed everyone. I would probably have been one of the ones complaining that he didn’t. But if he wanted to turn around the system of oppression that caused so much illness and vilified people with certain illnesses, he couldn’t stay there. He had to move on. He had bigger systems to address, leaders to confront, tables to overturn. There were people waiting for a deeper healing—for justice and hope. And if he wanted to extend new life to go beyond the grave and not be limited in time, he had to cross that boundary into death itself and shine the light of life and love there also. And if he wanted to have anything to offer people, he needed to do a kind of waiting, too. He headed out when it was still very dark to pray, to communicate with God, to wait on God instruction, to meditate on a saving word.
Even Jesus had to wait. Maybe that’s what I’ll remind myself with next time at the grocery store. Jesus surely waited with his mother at the market. He waited until he was older to learn the carpenter’s trade. He waited until his 30s to start his public ministry. Jesus even waited on the cross. He made the most of that time with prayer and by reaching out to two criminals on either side of him . Waiting is a fact of life. It isn’t if we will wait, but how we spend that waiting time that makes the difference. We can spend it complaining. We can spend it balancing time alone with God and helping others and we will find God helping us, too, through others.
What are you waiting for from God? What might God be waiting for from you?